Southwark: Social Cleansing and the Right to Return

Southwark: Social Cleansing and the Right to Return

Southwark Council guilty of deliberate social cleansing of an entire neighbourhood

The Heygate Estate was built in 1971 and was a home to some 1,200 families, the vast majority of whom were council tenants. Neighbours got to know each other, watched their children grow up on the estate etc. Social housing on ‘prime land’, however, was a waste of money and the council decided the whole area needed to be ‘regenerated’. Fred Manson, former Regeneration ‘guru’ at Southwark Council, openly declared Elephant and Castle needed ‘a better class of people’. The relentless media campaign throughout some 20 years of the ‘regeneration’ was hell-bent on
creating a fictional, highly distorted image of the area, where the buildings were run down and uninhabitable, and people living and working in the area borderline criminals. This was parroted by every single council officer, local politician and media in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Since 2007, all of the 1,200 families were evicted from their homes and displaced far away from their friends, neighbourhoods, work and support networks, as the council had never built the replacement homes it was supposed to. Those who had originally bought their homes were given compensation for the value of the property of the maligned estate, a sum far below the market value of the new homes. The community of the Heygate Estate is not to be regenerated.


Map showing displacement of residents from the Heygate

Making a mockery of the people of Southwark

Apart from a brief partnership where local residents, together with Southwark Council and developers, had a meaningful impact on regeneration plans, the essence of regeneration was never truly debatable. Proposals came and went, the council made promises then broke each and every one at the earliest given opportunity. Since 2010, when the council signed the regeneration agreement with Lend Lease, Southwark council officers and elected politicians actively encouraged local residents to waste their precious time and knowledge on Lend Lease’s ‘consultation’ events.

None of the residents’ concerns or contributions made any significant change to the developer’s original plans. The contents of the deal itself were only made public, by accident, two years after the fact. The regeneration agreement revealed that the council sold the entire estate and the land it’s on not just cheaply but at a loss (when costs of displacing the 1,200 families are taken into account; some estimate that the rip-off is in the region of some £500,000,000, calculation based on land size and the price a different developer paid for a patch of land right next to the Heygate).

The structuring of the developer and financier companies has only the first company restricted to a loan repayment agreement. Other companies in the chain can charge as they please making the profit sharing agreement of the future a futile, unmanageable gesture.

When dealing with the leaseholders, the council breached the Human Rights Act, and not only did the council not pay leaseholders the real value of their homes, they washed their hands of any social responsibility towards them, having made them homeless. In 2013, as the council and Lend Lease were ready to start demolishing the estate, the few remaining residents were literally fenced in, behind 2m high structures guarded by security and dogs, ensuring their last days in their homes are as unbearable as it gets.

The proposal, when it was submitted as a planning application, totally discarded Southwark’s own, as well as national and London planning policies:

Instead of the minimum 35% ‘affordable’ housing developments in the area are meant to provide, Lend Lease could only agree to 25% because ‘anything above that would not be viable’

In spite of the council’s policy requiring new developments in the area to be car-free (as it has superb underground, overground rail and bus connections), Lend Lease had to have 680 parking places to ‘make the development viable’

In spite of the council’s policy to ‘create mixed communities’, few, if any, of the former Heygate residents will get to live on the estate again – in 2007, when the cleansing started, there were some 1,000 council homes on the estate (200 were leasehold). The new Heygate will have exactly 71 social rented homes. The ‘affordable’ homes, at 80% market rate, will most certainly not be affordable to the majority.

In spite of the fact that the existing green space within the estate, the Heygate forest, is fully and truly public, Lend Lease, council officers and Cllr Fiona Colley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, banged on about the ‘biggest new park’ which Lend Lease will ‘give’ Southwark – the ‘park’ will be smaller than the existing green space privately managed and privately accessible.

At the planning committee meeting, where the elected politicians are, in theory, meant to make an independent, informed decision about the planning proposal, members of the committee were not allowed to read Lend Lease’s viability assessment, a key document which is meant to show the reasons for the proposal’s multiple departures from national, London and local planning legislation.

Assessing viability should lead to an understanding of the scale of
planning obligations which are appropriate. However, the National Planning
Policy Framework is clear that where safeguards are necessary to make a
particular development acceptable in planning terms, and these safeguards
cannot be secured, planning permission should not be granted for
unacceptable development.

National Planning Practice Guidance

Lend Lease was given permission to go ahead with the redevelopment in spite of this and in spite of huge local opposition.

Local residents and campaigners have since taken the issue of the viability assessment to the Information Commissioner’s Office and now to court, as the financial basis of the decisions are of public concern due to planning permission being granted on what may prove to be an unacceptable development.

Regeneration benefits?

Southwark will have the social housing stock drastically reduced.
Southwark will have the affordable housing stock at a level not capable of providing homes for average income employees
Southwark’s biggest new park in London for seventy years will not happen, the statement is simply a lie.
Southwark will not be getting a zero carbon development which it was originally to be. (Strata Tower cannot be meeting the planning permission conditions as the wind turbines produce no electricity. Further carbon reductions were dependent on the MUSCO which will now not be developed)
Southwark will not be getting the car free development of the London and Southwark planning requirements. Permission has been granted for over six hundred car parking spaces – further increasing pollution from the zero carbon

However, a former council regeneration officer is now happily working for Lend Lease. Cllr Peter John, leader of the council, happily took two free tickets (£1,600 each) from Lend Lease for the opening of the London Olympics, for him
and his partner (who is not in any way connected to Southwark Council) – Cllr Peter John attended a business meeting while his partner attended a party at the same event and time. Cllr Peter John was worthy enough for Lend Lease to pay for his trip to MIPIM last year.

A note on Lend Lease

An Australian property developer with a global portfolio and a controversial track record:
Lend Lease were appointed to build the Olympic Village in East London but when they failed to raise the £450m cash their role within the Olympic Development was bumped from developers to project managers. £326m of
public money was begged for, millions of pounds were handed over and Lend Lease profited from the development despite its private financing problems. Lend Lease was also given the Millennium Dome in 2005 to then dumped it
four years later for a £24m profit. In April 2012 they bit the bullet and agreed to dish out $56m in fines to compensate their many victims in a decade-long over-billing scam they were running in the USA. Anyhow we would be hesitant to suggest that other mega development corporations are winning many Ethical Investment Awards either!

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